By Nhlanhla Ngulube, LGT Impact Fellow at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, South Africa
South Africa’s formal sector, which accounts for a significant portion of economic activity in the country, has historically been known to reliably create job opportunities that can absorb a significant portion of the 1.2 million young people that enter South Africa’s labour market annually. In recent times however, poor economic growth and a battered education system have negatively affected the formal sector’s ability to create new job opportunities, resulting in nearly two-thirds of young people being locked out of any system of education, employment, or training in South Africa, a reality that is confirmed by labour market statistics that place South Africa’s unemployment level among the highest in the world (34.4% in the second quarter of 2021, according to Statistics South Africa).
This is the sobering reality I found myself in when I joined Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, a non-profit organization dedicated to designing and implementing African solutions to youth unemployment in South Africa and beyond. Despite this reality, I quickly learned that even though the task of tackling youth unemployment and dismantling the barriers that keep young people excluded from the economy may seem daunting, the Harambee culture, entrenched across all spheres of the organization, ensures that what we do is impactful.
Though I had heard of Harambee a number of times in my career before commencing my LGT Impact Fellowship, it wasn’t until I joined the organization – as an impact and research specialist – that I experienced, first hand, the magic that makes Harambee the impact-driven organization that it is, a magic that is known internally as ‘The Harambee Way of Working’ – six guiding principles which define the culture of Harambee, the work we do, as well as the manner in which we do our work. These are:
- Committed to integrity
- Ready for work
- Hungry to grow
- Obsessed to perform
- Driven by results
- Determined to succeed together
Each of the above principles plays a unique role in shaping the Harambee identity and culture, however it is the last principle that I have experienced in the most profound way: our combined determination to succeed together. There is no doubt, as introduced earlier, how wide-spread and complicated the issue of youth unemployment in South Africa is, and part of my job is to assist in communicating our impact to funders, conduct research in support of our pilot and existing projects, as well as lend support to the Systems Change agenda which the organization is currently pursuing – all of which require a deep sense of teamwork across the organization. Toward this end, everyone I have encountered at Harambee has been extremely helpful in ensuring that we succeed together, guided by the shared knowledge that our combined work serves a higher purpose, whose impact will change countless lives for years to come.
Getting more young people participating in the informal sector, particularly through supporting youth-led businesses, is key to creating new pathways outside of the formal sector in South Africa. Not only does this entail supporting existing youth-led microenterprises through support programmes and linkages to enterprise value chains, but also supporting first-time microentrepreneurs, or ‘hustlers’, who are just beginning their micro-enterprise journey, or ‘hustling’. This understanding, informed by our own research, inspired us to bring together key stakeholders in South Africa’s Microenterprise landscape, at a Microenterprise Learning Exchange event, where we shared learnings on how we can be of better service to young hustlers across the country. This experience, yet again, demonstrated Harambee’s determination to succeed together, not only in the planning of the event, but also in the insights and learnings that were shared. We had the additional pleasure of being joined by some young entrepreneurs from our own network who shared their lived experiences conducting small businesses in South Africa, giving us a first-hand look into the realities faced by young entrepreneurs trying to make ends meet in this country.
Determination to succeed together is indeed integral to the success of any problem-solving endeavor that requires teamwork, and a complicated matter like youth unemployment is no exception. My fellowship journey is still in its infancy, however I am already convinced that Harambee is the type of organization I could call home, given the undeniable cultural fit I feel, as well as the deep sense of purpose attached to what I do.
Title image: The Harambee Impact and Storytelling Unit, which I joined (second from right)